Stop, Look: Beginning the Practice of Applying Biblical Warnings to Real Life

Stop, Look: Beginning the Practice of Applying Biblical Warnings to Real Life
Written by: Pete McClanathan

We’ve been uncovering how the Bible speaks clearly to matters of human conduct and relationship. Its words are directed particularly to those in the body of Christ.

There can be a danger of overlooking or dismissing biblical instructions and warnings since they typically are inserted among a broader subject theme (e.g., the instructions to family members and those in the workplace in Eph. 5-6 are part of a deeper teaching on the challenges of a believer’s life). 

And if we begin by looking for quick or easy answers we risk coming away disappointed.  Each person, situation, and relationship has its own features. It can feel that the wisdom of scripture is too simplistic or too burdensome to be of help in the complexities of our emotions and relationships. We need to develop practices that will help us apply the scriptures at face value. 

We can begin by reminding ourselves over and over that the power of God is contained in His Word. And if that be the case, we can be assured that God has given us the full measure of His wisdom on any matter. He 
did not neglect something significant, nor fail to appreciate what you or I may be going through.

Our challenge is to learn and to follow. Yes, follow, even if it may seem confusing or futile. Adherence to God’s Word will always take us to a better place. Maybe not quickly or easily. Maybe not the place we thought we were looking for. Maybe not without significant struggles along the way. But always better than outcomes based on our own desires and understandings.

We’re going to discuss some exercises in Stop, Look, Listen. You’ll recall that this idea was outlined in the previous article, and we promised to introduce some application strategies. We now begin, and we’ll discuss them in the context of hypothetical but realistic situations of life.

A productive way to engage in this project will be to resist looking for easy or quick answers. And we must take care (Stop and Look) to resist seeking support for our own preferences. It is a time-honored practice to land on those parts of scripture that seem to support us, so we can  declare the “rightness” of our point of view. Needless to say, that easily becomes a dead-end road...scripture used as a weapon instead of a resource for healing.

Rather, we can begin to consider how to identify complexities, and to observe how the Word of God truly does speak into the situation. We can learn to look for what are often several layers of truth, and begin to appreciate that we are dealing with something deeper and richer than we had expected.

Today we take a look at:

 The Argument

Argument unfortunately is one of our common communication traps. We could prepare a separate series on this topic alone (marital, family, work, friends, neighbors, church). But let’s start by seeking to extract wisdom that can apply to whatever situations we might find.

A and B find themselves in a heated discussion about (insert topic). As emotions rise, accusations do also. A tells B that B doesn’t understand anything. Quick to defend, B calls A selfish and stubborn. Before long A is accusing B of “always” reacting that way. B then reminds A of A’s previous offenses toward B. Neither party accepts responsibility for the argument or the events leading up to it. Both are quick to deflect any suggestion of their own fault, and quick to proclaim the magnitude of the other’s fault. Soon both parties are bringing up additional examples of “failures” in the other’s life, and calling each other’s Christian faith into question.

Once ignited, the emotions of conflict rarely control themselves. And the purpose easily (and sadly) becomes to overcome the other party’s position. To “win," to be “right," to wrest agreement with one’s own point of view or agenda, and to protect against or avenge perceived attacks on one’s character and plans.  

There is always more at work in conflict than the obvious issues which appear to be the core of the dispute. Pride, fear, or insecurity can fuel needs for affirmation or safety (“I’ll show myself and everyone else that I’m strong, wise, and capable”). Feelings of resentment or shame can compel us to stand our ground, to overcome the other, to defend ourselves by prevailing in this moment (“I’m tired of being pushed around or disrespected”). There is a wide range of such feelings and motives. Often we don’t even recognize them in ourselves, and certainly not easily in others. They are called personal issues of conflict, and they weave themselves throughout our transactions and relationships.

We’re going to spend a while learning to look at these things from a fresh perspective. We’ll try to break open an assortment of situations to see what might be involved (Stop and Look), then seek counsel from the Word of God (Listen). In each we will be learning to step back from the emotions of the moment (to STOP) and ask questions such as these:

What might be involved here that I’m not yet seeing? Emotions can distort our perception and our understanding. We quickly step into the track of defending ourselves and defeating or punishing the other. If we Stop (and remember that stopping isn’t the natural response), we might find ourselves exploring unfamiliar thoughts:

What am I trying to accomplish emotionally (affirmation, self-respect, revenge, being heard, the other party’s agreement with my position)?

How might my own personal issues be affecting my actions and reactions? 

What might the other party be needing? (It is guaranteed that these feelings exist in everyone, not just ourselves...and the other party is not the only person on earth without them, strange as that might seem).

Is this really worth fighting over? Why does it seem to matter so much to me; could it not simply be overlooked?

What about settling accounts (a polite term for revenge)?

Am I just tired of being hurt, disappointed, and offended so often in my life?

What can my reactions and impulses tell me about what is really most important to me (What am I worshipping?) 

Personal issues can hijack any situation. Winning can come to feel more important than the conflict itself. Stepping back and showing concern for another can seem so difficult. What, then, am I worshipping . . . my own sense of value, my self-declared goals, or obedience to God?

Our desires, fears, goals, histories, and relational habits travel with us in every situation, usually disguising themselves as noble intentions as they demand to be satisfied. We generally don’t recognize them for what they are, nor how they impact our thinking and behavior. To Stop is not our first reaction. But it is a necessary door to change and healing.

And thus we come to a topic that is hard to face but is critical to our dealing with life biblically. It is one that we will revisit continually. That is, our ability and willingness to examine ourselves honestly and thoroughly.  

This would be a good time to address an important question: Are you telling me to become a doormat, to allow myself to be overrun, to give up my own goals and “rights," even my safety?

The simple answer is . . . No, but. Clearly if you’re dealing with a dangerous person or situation, you need to protect yourself, or stand your ground, or get away. The “but," though, directs us to an honest look at  the situation. What is really at stake?  Is the other person really a threat or just a disappointment or an annoyance?  How does the Word of God direct my response? Do I even care, or am I so overwhelmed by my pain and frustration that I’m willing to bypass the Bible and proceed with my own reactions and resources?

Emotions easily can become intermingled with facts. In some cases the safer move truly may be to take a stand or get away.  But that option must not become an excuse to avoid the clear biblical instruction about our conduct in difficult times, and the hard work that may be called for. The wiser move may not be the easiest or most comfortable.

We long for clear answers in times of frustration and pain, but in truth they often don’t present themselves quickly. Only by taking a serious look within, perhaps with the counsel of a wise friend or pastor, can we hope to sort out these tangled pieces. The default alternative . . . blaming people and circumstances . . . has been shown to be of little value in bringing resolution and healing.

Let’s allow these things to settle in our thoughts for now. They are intended not merely for interesting reading but as an ongoing challenge to each of us. Review and thoughtful application would be wise ways of responding. 

We’ll walk further soon. As always, your comments or questions, or disagreements, are welcome in the space below.

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